CNN reports on Dec. 18, 2014, that the U.S. Army plans to launch two “blimps” at 10,000-feet in the air to protect the Washington D.C. area from possible air attacks.
The blimps are JLENS (Joint Land attack cruise missile defense Elevated Netted Senor) with the following features:
- No firing ability
- Used for the detection of cruise missiles
- Carry technology that will almost double the reach of ground radar
Here are screenshots I took from the 1:07 minute-long CNN video:
The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS, is an aerial detection system designed to track ground vehicles, cruise missiles, manned and unmanned aircraft, boats and other threats. The system has four primary components: two tethered aerostats which utilize a helium/air mix, armored mooring stations, sophisticated radars, and a processing station designed to communicate with anti-missile and other ground and airborne systems. Each system is referred to as an “orbit,” and two orbits have been built. The Army-led joint program is designed to complement fixed-wing surveillance aircraft, saving money on crew, fuel, maintenance and other costs, and give military commanders advanced warning to make decisions and provide notifications.
In January 1996, the office of the Secretary of Defense directed the Army to establish an Aerostat Joint Project Office based in Huntsville, Alabama. The office involved all military departments—the Army would serve as program manager, while the Navy and Air Force would provide deputy program managers. […]
Three bids were received, and in January 1998 a joint venture between Hughes Aircraft and Raytheon, located in El Segundo, California, won the initial contract—valued at $11.9 million—as part of an estimated $292 million contract if all options were exercised.
Since that time, numerous studies and requirements changes have been made. According to JLENS’ product manager, the system is poised for operational testing, a planned three-year deployment at Aberdeen Proving Ground; if successful, full deployment would be the next step. […] in March 2014, a report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that $2.78 billion had been invested in system design, development and other costs. […]
A three-year exercise for one of the two JLENS orbits is slated to begin as early as December 2014 at Aberdeen Proving Ground north of Baltimore, Maryland, contingent upon federal funding. The president’s 2015 budget request included $54 million for JLENS. The U.S. House of Representatives cut funding in half, while the Senate fully funded JLENS. One analyst noted that “failure to pass a defense spending bill by March 2015 would impact JLENS at Aberdeen.”
The deployment would join an ongoing exercise known as Operation Noble Eagle, with JLENS casting an aerial net from Boston to Lake Erie to Raleigh, North Carolina, with a particular eye toward detecting threats approaching the nation’s capital. The system will be able to detect ground-based vehicles up to 140 miles away, from Richmond, Virginia to Cumberland, Maryland to Staten Island, New York. The program’s second orbit will be kept in strategic reserve for potential future deployment. […]
Privacy advocates have raised concerns that the December 2014 deployment could be used to track individuals through combining JLENS data with traffic cameras at transit chokepoints, automatic license plate readers and other technology with which the JLENS radar data can be cross-indexed, including EO/IR sensors like ARGUS. A spokesperson for the Army stated that “absolutely, 100 percent” that JLENS will not have video cameras, nor will it collect personally identifiable information. Simply matching the GPS coordinates of where a car parks for 8 hours at nighttime with a map often reveals who owns the vehicle and where they live, so the claim that they will not “collect personally identifiable information” while indefinitely collecting pattern-of-life geo-location data on every moving vehicle seems inconsistent. […]
“The primary mission…is to track airborne objects,” the Army said. “Its secondary mission is to track surface moving objects such as vehicles or boats. The capability to track surface objects does not extend to individual people.” Experts cite the extreme angles from overhead as precluding even advanced surveillance systems from being able to identify faces or other features such as license plates, but as this data is easily cross indexed with ground sensors and cellphone metadata, those claims are disingenuous at best. Some analysts note the need for safeguarding the national capital region, and insist there is no hidden agenda to spy on Americans. Given the similar promises made by the NSA with its metadata tracking program, the warrantless use of ‘dirtboxes ‘ and stingrays by the US Marshals and police as well as the secret use of Wide Area Persistent Surveillance targeting the minority neighborhoods of Compton, “SPY” = INCIDENTAL COLLECTION – JLENS collection of data is not spying, it is “Incidental Collection”, a word parsing technique used across government agencies to circumvent citizen’s Constitutional protection against warrantless surveillance. The “Proper Use Memorandum,” says that while unmanned aerial vehicles are not to be used to specifically “target” any “U.S. persons,” anything captured incidentally can be disseminated to other agencies. Data collected by the Army National Guard’s unmanned aerial drones in American skies could be passed along to other government agencies, as long as it is “unintentionally and incidentally collected.”
NSA could make use of any “inadvertently acquired” information on US persons under a defined range of circumstances, including if they held usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted or are believed to contain any information relevant to cyber-security. […]
One privacy group has also noted that JLENS designers reported in marketing materiel they could weaponize JLENS and that the vehicle is capable of carrying Hellfire missiles as well as advanced sensors such as ARGUS and other Wide Area Persistent Surveillance EO/IR payloads. However, the manufacturer claims that JLENS does not have any weapons and though it has the capacity to carry Hellfire missiles, it will not do so during this test.
The JLENS system is designed to stay aloft and survive most weather patterns. According to the system’s manufacturer, JLENS has survived 106 mph winds.